The Medieval Period of classical music, also known as the "Middle Ages," spans roughly from the 5th century to the late 15th century. This era is characterized by a rich and diverse musical tradition, with a focus on sacred music and a limited use of written notation.
Key characteristics and developments of the Medieval Period of classical music include:
Gregorian Chant (Plainchant): Gregorian chant, also known as plainchant or plainsong, was the dominant form of music during the early Medieval period. It consists of single-line melodies with a free rhythm, often sung in Latin. Gregorian chant was primarily used in Christian religious services and monastic settings. The melodies were transmitted orally, and it wasn't until later in the period that neumes (early musical notation) were used to notate the chants.
Early Polyphony: Towards the end of the Medieval Period, there was a gradual development of polyphonic music, where multiple independent melodies were sung simultaneously. Early polyphony included organum, where a second voice sang a fixed interval above or below the main melody.
Troubadours and Trouvères: Secular music became more prominent during the Medieval period with the rise of troubadours in the south of France and trouvères in the north. These poet-musicians composed songs in vernacular languages about chivalry, love, and courtly life.
Notation and Manuscripts: The development of musical notation evolved gradually. Neumes, early symbols that indicated melodic direction, were used in early chant manuscripts. Later in the Medieval period, square notation and eventually staff notation began to be used, which allowed for more precise notation of pitch and rhythm.
The late Medieval period saw the emergence of a new musical style called the "Ars Nova" (New Art), primarily associated with French composer Philippe de Vitry. Ars Nova introduced more complex rhythmic patterns and notational innovations, allowing for greater rhythmic precision.
Instrumental Music: While vocal music predominated, some instruments like the recorder, vielle (a type of fiddle), and organetto (a small organ) were used in Medieval music. These instruments often accompanied vocal performances.
Hildegard of Bingen: Hildegard of Bingen, a German abbess and mystic, composed a significant body of religious music, including antiphons and hymns, during the 12th century.
The Medieval Period laid the foundation for the subsequent development of Western classical music. It was a time when music was deeply intertwined with religious and courtly life, and although the musical notations were limited compared to later periods, it was a period of experimentation and innovation that contributed to the rich tapestry of Western music history.